Moving right along on the energy regulatory front, Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) on Wednesday launched a study of air emissions tied to oil and gas development.

The new study came as the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) wound up public hearings this week with a near-final draft of rules on oil and natural gas drilling water sampling and the distance for well setbacks (see separate story this issue and Shale Daily, Jan. 10).

Some $1.3 million will be sought from the COGCC to conduct the two-phase air emissions study, using the commission’s environmental response fund, which consists of proceeds from state oil and gas tax revenues.

DNR said it will start this summer seeking information about the behavior, characteristics and travel patterns of emissions along the northern Front Range. A second phase of the study will assess possible health effects using the data collected in the first phase, DNR said.

DNR is characterizing the study as the latest attempt by Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration to “build upon Colorado’s robust regulatory approach to oil and gas development,” making it an extension of the state’s effort last year to create “a national model” for disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.

A Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) spokesperson said the industry acknowledges the concerns, risks and benefits tied to energy development, and thus it supports the air study in the Front Range. He said the new study will be similar to one being conducted in Garfield County by Colorado State University (CSU) researchers.

“The CSU School of Atmospherics’ studies have not shown to be biased or have researchers who have spoken out in favor of, or against, oil/gas development, and thus it is a true third-party source,” said a COGA spokesperson, noting that the school has research and global academic credentials that insulate science from politics.

Like the Garfield County study, COGA’s spokesperson said he hoped the Front Range effort “will emphasize technical soundness, quality assurance procedures and appropriate peer review.”

State officials said the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment will contract with CSU for the Front Range work. The head of the state public health agency, Chris Urbina is a member of the COGCC, which on Wednesday finalized three days of hearings on the new mandatory water sampling and nearly finalized setback requirements.

DNR Executive Director Mike King, who is also a member of COGCC, said the new study is “another important step in our aggressive efforts to ensure oil/gas development is conducted with the highest standards of environmental protection.” King said “strong regulation and science” together build public confidence in an industry he deemed as “economically critical.”